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U.S. Implementation of POPs Treaty Jeopardized
(Beyond Pesticides, March 11, 2004)
Environment and public health organizations are calling on the U.S. government to ratify and fully implement the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), a global treaty that bans or severely restricts twelve POPs, including highly toxic dioxins, PCBs, and pesticides such as DDT. Although President Bush promised in 2001 to support the treaty, his administration has sought to undermine it by proposing legislation that will make it harder, rather than easier, for EPA to control chemicals with POPs characteristics after they are added to the treaty. The treaty has been ratified by 50 countries, enabling its entry into force on May 17, 2004.

In order to ratify and fully implement the treaty, Congress must first amend U.S. chemicals and pesticides laws, including the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), to give EPA the authority to ban or restrict domestic production, use and export of POPs.

Beyond Pesticides and other public interest organizations agree that Congress must reject legislation proposed by the Bush administration and the chemical and pesticide industries, which advocate changes to TSCA and FIFRA that will create new procedural and substantive hurdles for EPA before it can regulate POPs that are banned under the Stockholm Convention. Instead, Congress should adopt a proactive, protective approach under which chemicals that may have POPs characteristics are monitored and regulated before they become widespread threats to human health, the environment, and marine and terrestrial wildlife.

To that end, environment and public health groups sent a letter to EPA on March 8, 2004, recommending that POPs implementing legislation adhere to the following principles:

  • Stockholm Convention decisions supported by the United States should provide the default option for domestic regulation of POPs. Because the international process to ban additional POPs will be a painstaking, multi-year, science-based one in which the United States will fully participate, decisions by the Stockholm Conference of the Parties to ban or severely restrict additional POPs should provide the basis for U.S. domestic regulation.

  • The U.S. regulatory process should parallel the international decision-making process. TSCA and FIFRA amendments should facilitate transparency and public participation in the international listing process. They should give EPA a clear mandate to publish and obtain information at key stages of the international process, and to solicit public comments on proposed international actions and their possible implications for domestic policy.

  • EPA should be given broad authority to regulate all persistent, bioaccumulative toxics (PBTs). Under TSCA, EPA may not regulate a chemical unless it can first prove that the chemical presents or will present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. Under this onerous cost-benefit standard, EPA has been powerless to ban any substances¾even asbestos, for which the science has long been clear about its dangers. Congress should bring U.S. chemicals policy into the 21st Century by giving EPA the authority to ban or restrict persistent, bioaccumulative toxics (PBTs). EPA should have the power to (1) require mandatory testing of all existing and new chemicals for PBT properties, (2) apply a health-based standard when regulating PBTs, and (3) use TSCA as the primary law to regulate any substance determined to be a PBT.

POPs are synthetic, toxic chemicals that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in food chains and are common contaminants in fish, dairy products and other foods. Many Americans may now carry enough POPs in their bodies to cause subtle but serious health effects, including reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, and disruption of the immune system. Some indigenous communities in the Arctic region carry particularly high levels of these contaminants. Many POPs migrate on wind and water currents to the Arctic and bioaccumulate in the marine food chain there, contaminating the traditional foods of indigenous peoples.

The 50 countries that have ratified the Stockholm Convention as of February 20, 2004: Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Canada, Cote d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Denmark, Dominica, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, Japan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Nauru, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vietnam, Yemen.

TAKE ACTION: Contact your U.S. Senators, U.S. Representative and EPA Administrator and tell them 1) to oppose EPA's bill to amend FIFRA that is emerging out of Congress and 2) to enact effective legislation that encompasses the above mentioned three core concerns that allows the U.S.to ratify and participate fully in the Stockholm and Rotterdam initial conferences of parties.

The March 8, 2004 letter regarding the February 25, 2004 EPA draft bill to amend FIFRA is signed by Oceana, World Wildlife Fund, Beyond Pesticides, National Environmental Trust, Center for International Environmental Law, Physicians for Social Responsibility, 20/20 Vision, Department of the Planet Earth, Pesticide Action Network and the Delta Institute.